When I was just 17 years old, I was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis. My doctor at the time told me that it was the worst case she had seen in her 25 years of practice, and that if I wasn't so young, she would tell me to go out that day and start trying for kids.
I met my future husband, Shawn, in October 2004. As our relationship grew, I realized I didn’t want him to just be a boyfriend. Shortly after I turned 20, we got married and started on our journey to become parents.
Thinking I’d Have More Time
After trying to conceive for almost two years, my doctor finally told me that I would need some serious help. I had no idea that I would only have to be trying to conceive for 12 months before I was considered “infertile” at my age. At that point, I had only been tracking my ovulation for about a year. I figured with all the talk of “protection” and “birth control” in high school, it was easy to get pregnant. Not so.
My sister had just started consulting with the doctors at Shady Grove Fertility for her own infertility after a miscarriage, and after about a year of trying unsuccessfully, she suggested I make an appointment to meet with them too. A few weeks later, I met with Dr. Simon Kipersztok to discuss my options.
During my preliminary testing Dr. Kipersztok noticed endometriomas, endometrial cysts, on my ovary that would have to be removed before starting treatment. I was told there might be a chance that the ovary would need to be removed as well, but my OBGYN said she would try to save it. During the laparoscopy, I started bleeding when they were trying to remove the endometriomas, unfortunately it wouldn’t stop, so they had to remove the entire ovary.
At this point in my journey, I was only 22. I had never heard of someone who had to undergo IVF or any fertility treatment at that age. I honestly thought I had more time. It was a difficult realization to make that even my age wasn’t going to help me in this struggle. Every month that went by was another heartache and disappointment. I didn’t think treatments would work for me. But after hearing some success stories and going through a support group, I decided that I wouldn’t let my fear of failing stop me from trying.
Our first IVF cycle was in 2010. We had no insurance coverage so my angel of a grandmother gave us the money to fund the cycle. We started in February, and in March we found out we were pregnant. Unfortunately, only a month later in April we found out that we had lost the baby. Honestly, the pain of the cycles was nothing compared to that hurt, but we decided to push past it, and be brave to try again.
The Cade Foundation Brings Hope
We found out about the Cade Foundation grant through Shady Grove Fertility. I knew about it when we were going through the initial process, but when my grandmother gave us the money for our cycle, it didn’t feel right to apply and take an opportunity away from another couple. I had forgotten about it until after we lost Gabby and I was going through my old paperwork trying to find answers to what I could have possibly done wrong. The financial page fell out of my folder, like a sign. After some research, I knew we had to apply. What did we have to lose? I must have gone over that application a million times before we finally sent it in. How can you possibly sum up your desperation to have children into a few short words? How can you possibly convey how badly you want children, and how much the grant would mean to you? I wrote and rewrote our essay. I tried to show what their gift would mean to us, and how it would help us get through the hardest time in our lives. But even after all the anxiety while completing the application, I knew as soon as that envelope was sealed that we would get the grant. To me, my little girl was reassuring me that it would all come together.
I got the phone call in October that we were chosen for the grant. Camille called me herself. I actually missed quite a few of her calls because I don’t pick up unfamiliar numbers. When I listened to my voicemail, finally, all she said was to call her back, that it was urgent. I dropped everything I was doing at work and called. She told me that one of the families originally chosen for the grant was unable to accept, so we were chosen as alternates. At the beginning of the New Year, we would receive the gift that could give us our baby. I tried to keep it together, I was at work after all, but it was impossible. I must have asked if she was serious a dozen times, and I still didn’t believe it. I called my husband and told him the news and he was just as stunned as I was. I couldn’t wait to share the news with my family and friends. As soon as I got home that night, I embraced my husband, and I told him that I knew this was it. This was going to finally bring us our baby. How could it not? A gift like that is so full of hope and encouragement. It tells you anything is possible. It gives you a light during the darkest time in your life. It finally gave me something to hold on to.
Part of the requirements of receiving the grant is to attend the banquet, but obviously we would have gone anyway. First of all, the food was amazing, and the company was even better. Our banquet was on November 27, 2010. This was the day after I should have given birth to my Gabby. That is NOT coincidence, my friends, that is God showing that he knew what he was doing, and although I went through tremendous pain and heartbreak, it was for a reason, HIS reason. He, and my daughter, brought me into the loving arms of the Cade Foundation. When they tell you that you are now part of the Cade Family, they are not exaggerating, by any means. We were greeted with hugs and welcoming embraces. When we walked up to actually receive the grant, we were asked to share our story, so for the first time, I shared my pain and heartache with strangers. Only, as I spoke, looking at all those faces, especially of the people who had given me so much, I realized that they really were family. I was congratulated and encouraged. So many people told me how our story moved them. I saw all the tears that I shed, being shed by so many more. I knew I had the support of the Cade Team behind me. And I also knew that I wanted to dedicate as much as I could to helping them spread the word and raise money to give others the feeling that I had just experienced.
The way the grant process worked: SGF and the Cade Foundation communicated with each other regarding when my treatment would start and when payment needed to be made. Cade gave a check directly to SGF, so all I had to focus on was getting pregnant! They make it really easy on you. The grant covered the majority of costs, but luckily, when we found out we were pregnant the first time, we went out and bought a house right before the cut-off for the 1st time home buyer tax credit (again, NOT another coincidence), so a portion of that covered the rest.
We started our next IVF cycle and my monitoring went great, I was even progressing faster than expected. On retrieval day, they took more eggs than with the last cycle, and of all the mature ones (five total), they all fertilized! On day 5, we still had five healthy embryos growing, which was four more than our last cycle. We transferred one, and froze the rest. A few days after transfer, the bloating started. It was obvious I had Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS). I went in to confirm shortly before my two week wait was over.
After having aspiration surgery to have the excess fluid from the hyperstimulation removed, I woke up to see my husband's smiling face. I asked if they knew the pregnancy test results yet, his response..."Yup, you're pregnant!"
The treatments were pretty rough on my body, but I had blinders on the whole time. Not only did I know that my first little girl was looking out for us from above, but I knew I could get through it if it meant having my own little miracle to hold in my arms. I had a great support system in my family, and the doctors and nurses at Shady Grove Fertility were always there when I needed them. It's disappointing to know that you have to go through a clinical setting to have a baby, but at "graduation," they make you feel like you have conquered the world, which is true, because I overcame my infertility.
From “Couple” to “Family”
My life is indescribable. I never thought my heart could hold so much joy and love. I kept the gender of my baby a surprise (because let's face it, everything else about the process was so calculated, SOMETHING had to be spontaneous!). This was not a choice my "plan ahead" family was happy with, especially when they had to wait for almost four hours after the birth to find out we had a girl!
I went to the banquet in 2011, when I was about 30 weeks pregnant. That was an awesome year. Sherri Shepherd was our MC, which was a great experience. I always thought celebrities should get more involved in causes like these, and it was great to see that finally happening. She even congratulated me when she realized my belly was holding a Cade Baby! It is very difficult to put into words what the Cade Foundation means to me and my family. They gave us the most selfless gift a person can give. I think every member of their team deserves wings because they are all angels doing God’s work. They are making life possible where it otherwise would not be. That gift is treasured beyond what many people can comprehend. I can only hope to do a fraction of the good they have in my lifetime.
Rylan Patricia was born on February 3, 2012. She had some health issues after she was born, but she is a trooper, and everything she has been through has made her a tenacious, determined, independent and voracious little girl.
She is a spitting image of her Daddy with her Mom's personality – I’m sure of this because I recall my own mother cursing me as a child, promising I would have one just like me. She captures the hearts of everyone she meets, and even daycare agrees that she really is the best baby (ok, so maybe I am a little biased). She is starting to put sentences together, and she even knows some sign language. She is an expert walker now, and loves to help in any way she can. She loves to try new things and meet new people, and she gets very cross when she waves to people and they don't wave back.
My life is complete. I hope to give Rylan a brother or sister soon (she wants a brother, or bro-ber, as she says). I have my baby-cicles waiting for the right time. I truly believe my infertility has made me appreciate her existence even more than I would have if I had conceived naturally. I try to hug her every chance I get, and I tell her I love her at least 50 times a day. Watching her learn is better than anything they put on TV, and every decision I make, I only make after I think about how it will affect her, good and bad. Seeing her happy and healthy is my life’s goal now, since I already accomplished my goal of having my miracle baby.
Advice to a Friend
Unfortunately, I do have friends who are going through similar situations. First, I tell them that they definitely are not alone. I tell them to always have hope, and don't let go of what they want. It will happen in some way, shape or form. Before I had Rylan, I was the best Aunt my nephew could ask for. He is like a son to me. Before he was born, I had my dogs, my “fur-babies”. I needed to nurture, and I found ways that I could. Science is getting closer to making infertility a thing of the past. My worst fear is having my daughter go through the same thing, but I have faith that someday, this won't be a worry. My main advice is to be brave and take that first step to getting what you want. It's worth everything you have to go through.
Since day one, I have recommended the Cade Foundation to friends and family going through similar situations. The one complaint I notice people have the most while going through infertility is lack of funding. Trying to finance to raise a baby is hard enough without having to figure out how to finance getting pregnant in the first place. The amount of money you spend on treatment could put your kid through daycare for a year! That is a big burden to bear, especially with the emotional burden of infertility. It never hurts to apply. The worst they can say is no, and then you are just back where you left off. Apply every year, don’t give up. Most importantly, pay it forward. We were raising funds for Cade before we had even applied for the grant. Even if I didn’t get the grant, or win one of their raffles, my dollars, and every dollar I raised, went to help other families. The more money raised the more grants that can be given, and who knows? One year, that grant could be yours.
Both portions of the Cade Grant application (as well as the medical history forms) must be received by February 1 for the Spring grant review and July 1st for the Fall Grant Review. Grant decisions for SPRING funding will be announced on June 1, 2017.
About the Cade Foundation
A long-time partner of SGF, the Tinina Q. Cade Foundation is a non-profit organization that serves the needs of families battling infertility. Through education and outreach, the Foundation supports families struggling with infertility and strives to educate outside communities about relevant and related issues. In addition, the Cade Foundation provides financial assistance to families pursuing infertility treatment or domestic adoption through their Family Building Grantworth up to $10,000. This dual support approach distinguishes the Foundation as the only organization of its kind in the nation.
SGF physician, Frank Chang, M.D., has served on the Cade Foundation Board of Trustees since the Foundation's inception. SGF physician Jason Bromer, M.D., also serves on the Board of Trustees, as well as Melissa Esposito, M.D., and Stephanie Beall, M.D., Ph.D., serve on the Foundation's Advisory Council.